The most sought-after skills of the future are not technical, but behavioural; those so-called soft skills, or as we should be calling them, power skills. So says Corporate Talent, HR and Learning Analyst, Josh Bersin. We know from recent studies that digital and technical skills will be important to businesses of the future. This is a trend which has been evident for a number of years now. Bersin argues, however, that the technical skills gap will be easily filled. Companies are already investing in technology and digital literacy to future-proof their companies.
“More than 45% of [Chief Human Resources Officers] tell us people coming out of college have the digital skills they need,” Bersin wrote in 2019. “[W]hat they are missing is skills in complex problem solving, teamwork, business understanding, and leadership.
The data is quite clear: ‘digital skills gaps’ are being addressed: the leadership and behavioural skills are not.”
Hard versus soft skills
These behavioural skills – communication, people management, creativity, flexibility – are often referred to as ‘soft’ skills. They are believed to be inherent and therefore just part of a person’s make-up. This is opposed to what we traditionally refer to as ‘hard skills’. These are the skills which, from a purely operational point of view, enable us to do a job; word processing, driving, using heavy machinery and accounting are all examples of traditional ‘hard skills’.
However, it is precisely this traditional view of the business workplace that Bersin believes is exacerbating the skills gap that employers are seeking to close. “…[T]his distinction is now getting in our way. Why? Because most people think ‘hard skills’ are hard and ‘soft skills’ are soft.” Bersin’s thinking is that, in fact, the exact opposite is true.
“Hard skills are soft (they change all the time, are constantly being obsoleted, and are relatively easy to learn), and soft skills are hard (they are difficult to build, critical, and take extreme effort to learn).” The time taken to hone these behavioural skills is deemed too expensive in the face of the daily financial demands of business. At the same time, companies will increasingly outsource technical skillsets or look to specific individuals within their existing teams to upskill to meet technical challenges when they arise.
This reactive way of working may be cheaper and easier in the short term. In the longer term, it will only succeed in increasing the lack of these behavioural skills. Skill which, according to the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report 2020, will be critical within the next five to ten years. Soft skills are so influential that, according to Bersin, we should call them ‘power skills’. “[I]n reality they are the skills that give you real ‘power’ at work.”
Harnessing the power of power skills
Honing soft or power skills, takes a lifetime of experiences and learning. But what does that mean for students or graduates who have recently entered the workplace? Is it too late to begin building those skills from scratch? Thankfully, no. While power skills do take a long time to build, there are plenty of opportunities to do just that in every day life.
As Bersin writes, power skills are “developed through discussion, debate, and challenging situations.” As a graduate student, you will have encountered many situations where your power skills have been challenged and developed – not least in the last year.
Through collaborative working, you will have developed your ability to work well with others, think analytically and potentially manage others as a project leader. In adapting to studying at home, students will have built confidence in their ability to manage own schedule. They will have learned how to create a focused learning environment and ensure good communication with their peers and professors. This different way of working may have brought greater learning satisfaction to some. Graduate students may have had their curiosity sparked by a new area of study. This may lead to them looking at alternative career path or advancing their academic journey with a DBA. This satisfaction, this curiosity, leads to the happiness that is fundamental to strong relationships and therefore strong teams and strong companies.
Power skills = big success
It’s possible that you may not have even realised that you are actively developing these skills, but they are no less important to your personal and professional development. “Without them you will never be a big success, and developing them takes a life-long commitment”, says Bersin. Reframing how we consider these soft skills and acknowledging the work and commitment it takes to build them is important. This departure in thinking gives these skills the same importance as the technical skills that are often specific to certain jobs. Moreover, it also sets you apart as a candidate in the eyes of the business world.
The good news? These are skills that you will already be developing. Now could be the time to adjust your priorities and embrace the power of power skills.
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